“When you are doing a forensic examination or fraud examination, your job is to get to the truth,” notes Accounting Instructor Stephen Pascarella II ’77, ‘87MST, CPA. In his fraud examination course, Pascarella teaches students how to put the pieces together to figure out whodunit and how.
“It’s a different kind of accounting course – it's different than what people view accounting to be,” says Pascarella, who earned both his BS in Accounting and MS in Taxation from Bryant. “On the first day of class, I tell my students; ‘This is the only accounting course you’ll take where you're not going to use a calculator.'”
A new perspective
The course examines the causes and consequences of fraud and discusses concepts and procedures involved in performing a fraud examination – and then it goes further. In Pascarella’s class students learn the interview techniques and communication skills they’ll need in the field. They also become students of human behavior, learning about why people commit fraud, how they commit financial crimes, and how to detect the red flags they leave behind.
“You have someone right in front of you who has actually experienced what you’re learning about and can say, 'I’ve worked on this case, or a case like this. Here’s what actually happened.'"
Gregory Goodinson ’19, who took the course last year, now works as an Audit Associate for KPMG, a multinational professional services network and one of the Big Four accounting organizations. Fraud examination was a key initial training item at his firm, and he believes Pascarella’s course put him a step ahead. “You really focus on fraud as a concept and dissect it in every way,” he says. “It helps you gain a better understanding of how to look for it, how to identify it, and how to suggest corrections.”
“We’ve been learning about accounting and financial reporting for the last three years of our lives, and then Professor Pascarella comes in and tells us, 'Hey, let's take that knowledge and apply it in a new way,'” says Amelia Erbe ’20, an Accounting and Legal Studies double major who took the course in the spring semester. “It’s a new way of thinking as an accountant – you use what you’ve learned thus far but also add in a level of detective work.
“You have to solve a puzzle, and to do that you need to do more than understand the numbers; you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes."
The benefit of experience
The owner of the accounting and tax planning firm Pascarella & Gill, PC, Pascarella brings a wealth of experience with him to the class – which brings to life the material his course covers. “You've got to be able to say to your students. ‘OK, here's the theory and here's what the book is telling you. Now, here's how it's actually done out there in a real-world situation,’” notes Pascarella, a recipient of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Outstanding Instructor Award.
That real-world perspective is an important advantage, says Erbe. “He gave us a lot of theoretical questions to answer, but he also shared a lot of stories from his personal experience,” she notes. “You have someone right in front of you who has actually experienced what you’re learning about and can say, 'I’ve worked on this case, or a case like this. Here’s what actually happened.'"
“In every single accounting course that I teach at Bryant we talk about ethics, because the students will be tested in the real world and they need to be ready."
It also makes the course engaging. “When you have a professor who has actually been in the field it makes the class much more relevant,” says Goodinson. “Having conversations with professors you trust and who are passionate and knowledgeable about what they're teaching makes the class really worth it.”
A part of the discusion
Pascarella encourages discussion as the students work through the scenarios they’re presented with. “You’re going to need unique critical thinking skills if you're going to practice in public accounting,” he says. “You've got to solve problems everyday and you can't solve problems if you can't think critically.”
“He would share his thoughts and perspectives on the subjects we were talking about,” notes Goodinson, “but he would also open up the class to any other ideas. Professor Pascarella always left space for the students to add what they thought.”
“If you have any interest in understanding fraud or fraud examination, he’s the one to go to because he has the answers.”
“He makes sure that everyone takes part in the discussion” says Erbe. “It's challenging, but in all the right ways. You're always on your toes.”
Preparing for the real world also means preparing for challenges, so Pascarella also requires the students to reflect on and discuss the ethical choices they’ll face. “In every single accounting course that I teach at Bryant we talk about ethics,” says Pascarella, "because the students will be tested in the real world and they need to be ready.”
Students often find the class inspiring. “The experiences that he would bring up in class are the reason I was so drawn to pursuing a career in the field,” notes Goodinson. “It made me feel like there was more meaning to the work I was doing.”
“We live in a world that relies on financial transactions and since we’re an increasingly global economy, this is going to be an increasingly important field in the future,” notes Erbe. She’s glad she had Professor Pascarella to walk her through such a vital area. “He’s the professor that you've always wanted to have,” says Erbe. “If you have any interest in understanding fraud or fraud examination, he’s the one to go to because he has the answers.”